The revival of the written word
In the catalogue of family values how would you rate a situation like this?
A friend, Indra Sammy replies to her daughter’s e-mail, asking her not to substitute the word "coz" for because, or "luv ya" for love you. She’s concerned that if her daughter continues expressing herself in the English of convenience she’ll forget about the art of writing. I suppose what Indra wants from her daughter, even in an e-mail, is real communication not just mere contact. She wants an expression of feelings. She doesn’t just want to stay in touch.
But I wonder, would you consider my friend overbearing, ornery, not au courant with the times?
Now to answer that question first consider this. In the catalogue of business values, how would you rank an occasion like this?
A high ranking businessman is asked to deliver the feature address at a gala dinner and awards function. He brings a script but departs from the text, preferring instead to ad lib. I believe that an ad lib has its place but certainly not ad nauseum and this is a perfect example. What comes out of this top executive’s mouth is a string of badly pronounced words, and poorly constructed sentences, green verb too.
I have two questions: Would you question this executive’s ability? Would you want him on your board?
More and more at different corporate functions, I ‘ve begun to see a disturbing trend, the decline of the written word. University graduates wouldn’t know how to begin writing a long, thoughtful letter, the kind that requires reflection, effort and time. More disturbing is the fact that some business executives have no idea how to condense and distill information-using the art of speech writing.
That particular evening at the gala awards dinner, the CEO was in the company of his peers. "How was it possible," I thought as I sat through many badly written speeches, "that the heads of these large, mostly successful companies did not how to communicate?" The reputation of that particular feature speaker surely died a thousand deaths when he boasted about his company’s success: "My company have seen profits…."
Perhaps the decline of the written word, has much to do with the times that we live in. This, after all, is the age where we communicate more but write less. Hyper busy executives don’t read articles as they once did, if they can get the story in one paragraph, then forget the rest. If they can derive the essence of a twenty minute speech in a ten second sound bite, they’ll consider themselves informed. But it does not stop there. More and more we rely on commercial poets and cartoonists to express our thoughts for us. We sign off our sentences with a shrug and a bright yellow faced smile.
But we need not degenerate the English language any further before we think about its rescue. So to the businessman that night who went in a drunken state to the podium, and to you, yes you, the one with the green verbs spilling forth from your script like a broken WASA main, here are some tricks of the trade to help you get through those dreaded moments of speech writing.
First, never think that your first draft will be anything but silly. Don’t be discouraged, the draft is just a way of getting you to write the things you want to say.
Second, reject the notion that honesty and candour demand that you "let it all hang out." That’s not honesty, that’s intellectual laziness. Tuck some of your words in and edit some of them out. Remember composition is a discipline that forces you to think, put your thoughts in order and give them a purpose.
Remember too that your audience will expect you to give them some thing to think about. A speech demands some sense of occasion, you may want to use your ten minutes to uplift, inform and even inspire. Business leaders should use words full of meaning, that bind thoughts together with purpose, that holds a promise of understandable progress. Avoid empty word and false promises.
Like my friend Indra, I believe the written word needs a renaissance of clarity.